NEW DELHI • At least 85 people were killed in a town in central India yesterday when a cooking gas cylinder blew up in a restaurant and set fire to explosives stored nearby, officials said.
The gas cylinder exploded as workers and school children were gathering for breakfast at the restaurant, which is in the town of Petlawad in the state of Madhya Pradesh, about 800km south of New Delhi.
The restaurant was near an area where sticks of dynamite used at construction sites were stored. The second explosion was so powerful that it damaged adjacent buildings and ripped out nearby windows.
"People were thrown in the air like pebbles due to the explosion," a witness, who was not named, was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
Television footage showed scores of volunteers and rescue workers using their bare hands to shift mangled heaps of steel and concrete from the ruined buildings while police cordoned off the area.
Bodies covered in dust and ash lay in the streets alongside the twisted wreckage of burnt vehicles.
"Earlier, based on various reports coming to us, we thought it was 104 but now our own official information says 85 confirmed deaths," said Inspector M. L. Gond, who is in charge of the police control room in the Jhabua district where Petlawad is located.
Dr Arun Kumar Sharma, chief medical officer of Jhabua district, said at the local hospital that about 100 people were injured in the blast, 20 of them seriously.
Domestic gas cylinder explosions are common in India, where safety standards are relatively poor.
Although reports of fatal accidents from cylinder blasts are frequent, mass casualties are unusual.
A district police official cited the restaurant's proximity to a busy bus stand as a reason for the high number of casualties.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan offered compensation of 200,000 rupees (S$4,200) to the families of the dead and 50,000 rupees to help the injured victims.
Mr Chouhan also ordered an inquiry into the matter.
"The Jhabua tragedy is heartbreaking. I offer my condolences to the families of the victims and pray for the speedy recovery of those injured," he tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed suit and conveyed his condolences on the micro-blogging site.
"Extremely pained at the loss of lives due to the cylinder blast in Jhabua," Mr Modi said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE